ALFA helping bridge pandemic divides

February 11, 2021
ALFA Spring 2021 brochure cover

Fitchburg State University’s Adult Learning in the Fitchburg Area (ALFA) program is helping to foster a sense of community despite the ongoing pandemic.

ALFA is a lifelong learning institute that serves adult learners in Fitchburg and the surrounding communities. Because of COVID-19, all of ALFA’s latest offerings have been presented in a virtual format. With many ALFA students being retirees, there was skepticism that the sense of community they had experienced with in-person classes would translate into the digital world. They were happily surprised.

“I never imagined that during my first six months of retirement I would not be traveling, visiting friends and exploring new recreations, but ALFA via Zoom has offered some unexpected pleasures,” said Barbara Freidman of Ashburnham. “I’m surprised to see old friends and acquaintances in class, I explored nature through a microscope via technology, I returned to taking a weekly yoga class and I started one of my retirement goals: to write more. All without leaving my house.”

“I was worried online programs would contribute to my sense of isolation but was I surprised,” said Joyce Hinckley of Sterling. “The fall programs showed me it’s possible to maintain old connections and make new ones online.”

“In this time of isolation ALFA is providing cultural and educational food for thought enriching our lives with shared experiences,” said Sharon Donahue of Lunenburg.

ALFA is sponsored by the School of Graduate, Online, and Continuing Education at Fitchburg State in collaboration with volunteer members of the community. It offers non-credit daytime classes, trips, special events, and a free speaker series. ALFA students are encouraged to volunteer and participate in program leadership and development, as well as social and recreational activities. Most courses are just $40 (and free for students over age 90). A limited number of scholarships are available.

“My ALFA virtual classes brought me a respite from the humdrum,” said longtime ALFA student Carol DeCarolis of Leominster. “Classes equaled communication, companionship, colleagues, and company. It’s a bright spot in my day.”

This spring’s classes, for which registration is now open, will let adult learners brush up on their conversational French or Spanish, learn about scientific principles that affect our daily lives, get tips on how to de-clutter their life or learn how to play the ukulele. See the complete course listing and register online at Most courses are just $40 (and free for students over age 90).

“During the 'Learning about the I-Phone' class, I discovered I'm not the only one struggling with an iPhone, apps and Siri, and had many belly laughs with the other students who were all remarkably kind and patient,” said Debra Faust-Clancy of Ayer. “ALFA online rocks and the commute is great.”

“Would I recommend ALFA classes? I have and I will,” said Susan Peacock of Alhambra, Calif. “This spring my sister who lives in the Washington, D.C. area will be joining me in one Zoom class. The idea of online classes teaching and reaching seniors across the country, opening channels of discussions, and giving voice to those of us who feel in isolation, because of COVID specifically and age in general, has provided me with both much needed learning and socialization. Thank you for allowing this program to expand beyond the Fitchburg area. I am anxiously looking forward to spring classes beginning this week.”

This spring’s varied offerings include crosswords for beginners, Native American basketry, an introduction to yoga, a guide to winter botany, and the history of folk music, along with classes on creative writing, the art and culture of Islam, ancient lore in modern times, and the cinema of Oscar-winning director Bong Joon-ho, among many other topics. There will also be a free “Food for Thought” lecture on March 30 about abolitionism, emancipation and Civil War memory in Central Massachusetts in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.

For the full list of programs, and information about the instructors and schedule, please visit

Also, ALFA is always on the lookout for new instructors and new subject matter to share with its students. Anyone with a specialty that they think others would be interested in should contact the program directors at for details about becoming an ALFA instructor. Also, direct any questions to the ALFA office at 978-665-3706, or email at

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